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Women matching men at the bar

Women matching men at the bar

Female barristers are appearing in Australian courts at the same rate as their male counterparts, a newly released survey reveals.

FEMALE barristers are appearing in Australian courts at the same rate as their male counterparts, a newly released survey reveals.

The 2009 Court Appearance Survey, undertaken in May and June by the Law Council and Australian Women Lawyers, measured the rate at which women barristers and advocates appear in superior courts, the types of matters in which they appear and the amount of time they are spending in court.

Law Council president John Corcoran said the findings in relation to appearance rates were positive and should serve as encouragement for women wishing to join and remain at the Bar. 

“Statistically, female barristers Australia-wide are appearing in our courts in the same proportions as they exist in the Bar population,” Corcoran said. 

But while they are appearing in courts in the same proportions as their male counterparts, female barristers appear for shorter periods than their male counterparts, at 3.8 hours compared to 2.8 hours. 

In more bad news for the female half of the profession, the survey findings suggest government departments are more likely than private law firms to give briefs to women barristers. 

AWL president Olivia Perkiss said of the results: “The industry needs to conduct research and develop policies to not only encourage women to look at joining the Bar, but to make it an attractive, long-term career where they can receive complex, well-paid work and opportunities for promotion.”

The Law Council launched the national survey in June in a bid to assess the real state of women on the bar. 

The High Court, Federal Court, Family Court and the Supreme Courts and Courts of Appeal in each state and territory took part in the survey. 

"In recent years there has been a great deal of concern within the legal profession about the prevalence of inequitable briefing practices," Corcoran said at the time. 

“Research undertaken by the Victorian Bar Council and AWL supports anecdotal evidence that gender briefing patterns exist in the legal profession. Data suggest there is a difference in the number and complexity of cases in which women lawyers appear, compared to their male counterparts,” Corcoran said. 

The Law Council’s Equitable Briefing Policy attempts to encourage law firms, government departments and agencies, and other organisations to adopt an approach that optimises opportunities for women in the law, judiciary and community. 

The Law Council is now working on a strategy to address the finding of the survey. This will focus on "further investigation and information gathering, education and promotion of structural and institutional change”, Corcoran said.

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